Naheed Nenshi has built a reputation as Canada’s coolest mayor, at least among young progressives. He’s big on the Twitter. He’s hip (by politician standards). He’s funny (by politician standards). He shatters the (unfair) stereotype of Calgary as Canada’s redneck wasteland.
However, Nenshi may have competition from Calgary’s rival city.
While Calgary broke barriers by electing Canada’s first Muslim mayor, Edmonton broke barriers last fall with the election of Don Ivesion – Canada’s first openly Nerd mayor.
I crossed paths with Iveson a few times when I was at the University of Alberta. I remember bumping into him on the bus shortly after he’d been elected to council so I asked him how the job was treating him. He deadpanned a two minute story to set up a West Wing punchline (“Crime. Boy, I don’t know”). That shouldn’t have surprised me from a guy who tweets West Wing quotes, borrows Bartlet campaign tactics, and even played episodes at his campaign office. While this undoubtedly makes him a political nerd, you don’t need Joey Lucas’ polling to tell you everyone who works in politics has given a “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” speech, or taken a “which west wing character are you” quiz…over and over, until it gave you the answer you wanted (“Will Bailey? That can’t be right. I’m totally a Josh.”).
No, what sets Iveson apart is that he breaks free of political nerd culture, boldly going where few politicians have gone before – into full blown nerd culture. Case in point, from Edmonton’s Comic & Entertainment Expo:
Iveson took the opportunity to deliver a speech about the future of the city to a room of people who I would imagine spend a lot more time watching Battlestar Galactica reruns than Power & Politics. By coming in costume and warming up the crowd, he caused ears to perk up on important municipal issues – and not just because many were dressed as vulcans. A few will roll their eyes when they see the pictures, but Iveson instantly connected with hundreds of voters. Consider this the final frontier of micro-targeting.
This past week, the Mayor was in fine form again, using an analogy from the Civilization computer game to express the need for infrastructure investment (no word on whether he felt this should take priority over defense spending to fend off barbarian uprisings). Once again, he used a little geek charm to liven up a dry topic, thereby winning the eternal devotion of anyone who has ever said “one more turn” until the wee hours of the morning.
I have no idea what’s next for Iveson. Tardis phone booths in Edmonton? An anti-zombie fence around City Hall? Subcontracting law enforcement services out to Batman?
Regardless, Don Iveson has injected some fun into Edmonton municipal politics, giving Ontario progressives (at least us nerdier ones) yet another Alberta Mayor to be envious of.
I know I said I wouldn’t blog much over the next year, but if I have to come on here every time Rob Anders loses a nomination, I’m going to run out of bandwidth.
Here was Rob back in July, on his decision to seek the CPC nomination in Bow River:
“I really feel that [Bow River] is the Alberta I moved to in the 1980s. It’s a place with more trucks, and it certainly wouldn’t have elected someone like Naheed Nenshi, or other liberals pretending to be Conservatives these days. I feel a real connection. I find the people there are actually very sympathetic. They’re real Conservatives and you certainly feel that. There’s a strong pro-life movement going on in this riding, all sorts of hunting and shooting ranges.”
Today Anders was defeated by Martin Shields, who I can only assume is a secret Liberal. I mean, the guy doesn’t even own a truck.
After being rejected in Bow River, the question now becomes where Rob turns next. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, who signed the nomination papers for a candidate who said gays would “burn in a fiery lake for eternity“, has already said “thanks, but no thanks” to Rob, gently suggesting he move to the private sector. There is the upcoming Yellowhead by-election, but that’s a riding that elected “secret Liberal” Joe Clark four times. So scratch that.
If only there were a group of voters who would “never elect someone like Naheed Nenshi”, longing for a leader cut from Rob’s cloth.
Sadly, the deadline to run for Mayor of Toronto has passed, so this might very well be the end of Rob Anders.
An Alberta PC leadership race devoid of ideas has its first eye-catching policy.
Presumptive front-runner Jim Prentice has pledged limits of 2 terms on the Premier and 3 terms on MLAs. This no doubt comes in response to accusations the PC government has grown stale over time, though I would point out that many of their problems stem from the actions of a politician who became Premier after just three years as an MLA, before exiting in disgrace after winning a single election as Premier.
Meanwhile, I’d be very curious if Prentice feels his old boss, gunning for a fourth term as PM next year, is past his “best before” date. I’d also be curious if Prentice feels this is true of the following 13 MLAs who have endorsed him:
Mary Anne Jablonski
Yes, they would all be grandfathered in under Prentice’s proposal, but this still comes across as a bit of a slap to their faces.
Truth be told, many of the names on that list likely have passed their best before date, but isn’t that up to voters to decide? Admittedly there are safe ridings, but as Rob Anders learned this spring, open nominations are a method of removing some rot, without forcing out good politicians.
This is nothing more than a gimmicky proposal that would merely drive experienced politicians out of office. The PCs need to change now, and by exempting current MLAs, this would not lead to any changes until long after Prentice leaves office.
These are not happy days for the party which has ruled Alberta since before Happy Days ever aired, but the PCs had something to celebrate this weekend as they passed
Ontario’s Big Blue Machine Nova Scotia’s Big Red Machine to become the longest serving government in Canadian history.
There are many reasons for their longevity. An ability to portray themselves as the true defenders of Alberta against the federal government. Leveraging the resources that come with power to their maximum advantage. Inept opposition parties, who were not helped by the actions of their federal counterparts.
But above all else, the Alberta PCs are still ticking because they have shown an uncanny ability to adapt and evolve. The party would have ended in 1993 if Ralph Klein hadn’t completely shaken up the establishment and their approach to government. It would have ended in 2012 if Alison Redford hadn’t flown in to rebrand, sucking up votes on the left of the political spectrum.
And it will end in a year or two if Jim Prentice isn’t able to adapt again.
Oh Rob Anders, don’t you ever change:
“It’s a place with more trucks, and it certainly wouldn’t have elected someone like [Calgary mayor] Naheed Nenshi, or other liberals pretending to be Conservatives these days. I feel a real connection.”
-Rob Anders, on his decision to seek the Conservative nomination in Bow River
This week’s pilgrimage of politicians to the Stampede was met with less fanfare than some years gone by. This wasn’t the first rodeo for any of the party leaders, and ever since the leather vest incident, wardrobes are vetted by dozens of staffers and stylists. So there were few surprises and few opportunities to ridicule.
And, let’s be honest, everyone was there for the Shat.
Which kind of makes me sad Jack Layton isn’t around anymore. Mulcair? He’s supposed to be in town this weekend (if Harper lets him), but I see him as more of a Picard than a Kirk fan. Or maybe Riker – post beard.
That left the spotlight squarely on Justin Trudeau, flanked by local Liberal candidates who are trying to go where no Calgary Liberals have gone before (at least in the last 40 years) – to Ottawa.
Fresh off a victory of sorts in Fort McMurray – the heart of the oilsands – there are high hopes for a Calgary breakthrough. Ironically, it may be a Trudeau who finally puts the ghost of the NEP to bed in Alberta.
With what now seems like a yearly tradition – an Alberta PC leadership race – in full swing, I’ve taken the opportunity to rank the would-be-Premiers by their Stampede wardrobes. After all, the PC constitution forbids them from talking about policy, so what else are Albertans going to base their decision on?
Finishing third, and the winner of “worst dressed” this year, is Tom Lukaszuk. I recognize he spends 30 minutes on his hair every morning, but surely he could have donned a cowboy hat just this once? All I’m asking for is the bare minimum effort.
In second, Ric McIver gives it the bare minimum effort, wearing jeans and at least carrying a hat around.
Like the leadership race itself, there was never any doubt about who would win this fashion round-up. Jim Prentice has been a Stampede All-Star over the years – he rides a horse, throws a breakfast, and makes a wide range of outfits work.
And, finally, there is Naheed Nenshi, who this week passed the Calgary Tower as the city’s most photographed landmark.
We know Kathleen Wynne likes to run, but this spring she was running against 10 years of baggage, a widespread time for a change sentiment, and more scandals than the opposition could fit in a 30-second TV spot. Luckily, she was also running against Tim Hudak.
Given these challenges, the election was Hudak’s for the taking (or Horwath’s - more on that later). Out of the gate, he claimed control of the agenda, dominating the headlines every day. This was a page out of the Harper 2005 Playbook, when he took a break from Gomery to announce his 5 priorities. For Harper, it was very much about reassuring voters he was fit to replace a government most were ready to replace.
The problem for Hudak was that the agenda he laid out was nothing at all like Harper’s. The 5 priorities were populist fluff few could disagree with – a GST cut, a wait times guarantee, an accountability act, cash for parents, and tough-on-crime legislation. Some may not have agreed with them, but it’s hard to be against tax cuts. Harper suddenly looked less scary than the private healthcare, pro-gun, anti-abortion caricature that had been drawn of him two years earlier. By showing his agenda, he eased fears about a hidden agenda.
However when Hudak took control of the campaign, he showed an agenda that was just as harsh as anything the Liberals could have accused him of hiding. By inviting controversy, the debate became all about Hudak rather than the Liberal record. Most shocking was his pledge to axe 100,000 public service jobs, something the Liberal campaign pounced on and didn’t let go of. Suddenly, Hudak was playing defense on what he hoped would be his strongest turf – jobs. It certainly didn’t help that his math was (once again) suspect.
Despite a strong debate performance by the PC leader, the ballot question had already shifted from change and corruption to Hudak’s plan. That left a suddenly centrist Andrea Horwath squeezed out of the picture with little to say – another abject failure for the NDP, on the heals of disappointments in Nova Scotia and BC.
The Wynne campaign, meanwhile, kept a laser focus on Hudak. When forced to talk about their own plan, they wisely steered the conversation to pensions – the one clear idea in a rather smudgy financial blueprint.
Winning elections is all about framing the election around the narrative you want, and that’s what Wynne was able to do…by letting Tim Hudak control the agenda.
Back when I first sat down to rant about politics on May 15th 2004, I never expected I’d still be doing this over 3,000 posts later. The blog has outlasted 3 Liberal leaders, been through 4 federal elections, and documented my involvement on a handful of losing leadership campaigns. During that time, Bart Ramson turned into Dan Arnold, I moved to Edmonton, finished school, and became a “Toronto Grit”. Shortly thereafter, Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary and Rob Ford became mayor of Toronto. Go figure.
Nenshi and Ford have provided me with bountiful amounts of blogging material, but they have not been alone. There was the Michael Ignatieff experiment, on which so much virtual ink was spilled. There was the coalition crisis, which gripped the nation. There was the rise of the Wildrose Party, which led to the rarest of things – an exciting Alberta election. There was the orange wave. And, through it all, there was still time to poke fun at Politicians in Cowboy hats…and leather vests.
Another source for much blog content has been Justin Trudeau, but he is also the reason content has been, and will continue to be, scarce here. I’ve recently started working for the Liberal Party which, needless to say, limits what I’m able to write about. And really, what’s the point of blogging if I don’t have Rob Anders to kick around anymore.
You may still find the occasional retrospective or Pierre Poilievre rant, but this site will be taking a breather from deeper political analysis, at least until after the next election.
So a big thank you to everyone for reading over the years. I’ve always been in awe of the high caliber of discussion in the comments section of this site, and have appreciated the e-mails. As vain as it is to count clicks, the fact that I knew people were reading certainly motivated me to keep at it for a decade. So, to everyone, thank you.
I leave you with a list of 10 of my favourite posts from over the years. These aren’t necessarily the most viewed or the best posts – just 10 that I had a lot of fun writing.
1. Follow the Leader: I only include this post as a humbling reminder about how unpredictable politics can be, and how wrong I’ve been on many occasions. Just one year before Paul Martin’s resignation I provided odds on 13 possible Liberal leadership contenders without listing Stephane Dion, Bob Rae, or Gerard Kennedy. I do mention Michael Ignatieff, but only in what may have been the most awesomely off-the-mark sentence in the history of this blog – and I quote – “This week, we saw Peter C. Newman toot Michael Ignatieff’s name which is interesting because that’s about as serious a suggestion as Justin Trudeau”. Heh.
2. Greatest Prime Minister: In a March Madness style contest, blog readers voted for Wilfrid Laurier as Canada’s Greatest Prime Minister. This begat a series of other contests including “Best Premier”, “Best Prime Minister We Never Had”, “Biggest Election”, and, coming this summer, “Best Minister of Natural Resources”.
3. The Race for Stornoway: 2006 was really the heyday for political blogging. From the “Draft Paul Hellyer” movement, to candidate interviews, to the blogging room at the convention itself, blogging was as close to “cool” as it would ever be.
4. A Beginner’s Guide to Alberta Politics: For some reason, I seemed to blog a lot more about Alberta politics after I left Alberta.
PS. Ed Broadbent.
7. Moments of Decade: Hopefully I’m blogging again by 2020, because this is an exercise I’d dearly love to repeat. Readers nominated and voted on the top political moments of the decade, with the Alliance-PC merger topping the list. It wasn’t as exciting as the coalition crisis or the Belinda Stronach Chuck Cadman confidence vote insanity, but it set the stage for the rise of Stephen Harper.
8. On October 6th vote for proper scaling of the Y-Axis. Vote Liberal. Tim Hudak math burn!
9. What’s the Matter with Calgary? Having lived in both Calgary and Toronto, I’ve always been absolutely fascinated by the Nenshi-Ford dichotomy. Elected a week apart, these men are opposites with so much in common, who both shattered their cities’ stereotypes. When I first moved to Toronto, a lot of lefties would shake their head and “tsk tsk” when I said I was from Calgary. Not any more.
10. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Census (But Were Afraid to Ask): I’ve never been of the opinion that Stephen Harper is a monster who has destroyed Canada beyond recognition. Even on issues where we disagree – the gun registry, climate change, Quebec as a nation – I understand where he’s coming from. However, of everything Harper has done, his decision to scrap the long form census remains the thing that boils my blood. Here was the party who sends Happy Hanukkah cards to swing voters calling the census too “intrusive”. It wasn’t an assault on the welfare state or big government, it was an assault on reason. It showed that Harper offered nothing more than government by truthiness.
And that, is why I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next bit to help defeat him.